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“Getting more value more regularly brings people closer to the point of monetization”: Lessons from WAN-IFRA

“Numbers show just how powerful an audiences-targeted approach to content publishing can be.” 

New WAN-IFRA report shows, via multiple case studies, how publishers are growing readership as well as subscriptions by targeting small subsets of their audiences. 

Targeted audience approach has emerged as one of the key strategies for growing audiences and subscriptions. “There’s a pattern that emerges when you look at publishers that are succeeding in the digital news environment,” suggests a new WAN-IFRA report. “These tend to be companies that are committed to identifying specific target audiences, learning their needs and interests, and producing journalism that meets their expectations.”

The report, Building and engaging specific audiences, distils lessons from the third round of Table Stakes Europe (TSE) program. It is based on the 12-month coaching initiative, during which 23 teams from around Europe worked on implementing an audience-first mindset in their organizations. The report shares case studies that guide readers through “tried-and-tested methods for engaging potential audiences around topics they would like to see better covered in their news platforms.”

45-50% increase in completions and 60% greater audience share

Although not all participants focused on the same audience segment, the authors note that success was invariably “tied directly to identifying the needs and interests and everyday, real problems those audiences had to solve – and then providing compelling, often multimedia, journalism that delivered valuable content, news, and information where and when those audiences sought out what they needed.”

Source: Building and engaging specific audiences

“The challenge lies in identifying those audiences – some of whom are defined by geography, others by interests, and some by current life situation – and knowing how to serve them,” the authors write.

UK-based publisher, The Conversation, planned to adopt a new approach for covering topics relevant to people in their twenties and thirties. “The result – Quarter Life, a series of articles for young professionals – has been an eye-opener in showing the impact of audiences-targeted journalism,” says Khalil A. Cassimally, Head of Audience Insights, The Conversation.

The new approach helped the publisher increase its share of UK-based readers by 60% and achieve 45-50% greater completions. 

These numbers show just how powerful an audiences-targeted approach to content publishing can be.

Khalil A. Cassimally, Head of Audience Insights, The Conversation

In March 2022, the publisher got together a cross-functional team that started commissioning stories with a specific target audience in mind. The process was divided into 4 parts:

  1. Discovery phase
  2. Phase one: ease in
  3. Phase two: user needs
  4. Phase three: scale and distribute
Source: Building and engaging specific audiences

“Audiences-informed articles are more valuable to people”

The Discovery phase focused on zeroing in on a target audience, and creating a cross-functional team that would work at understanding and serving it better. It was composed of both editorial and audience development people. The team decided to target young professionals (20-30-year-olds) based in the UK. 

Phase one involved helping the team understand the audiences-targeted approach to content publishing and supporting them with the required infrastructure. This included building a clean and simple dashboard with just two metrics: completions and staying rate.

In phase two, the team was introduced to insights about the target audience and started publishing audience-informed articles. “We found that Quarter Life articles had a greater share of UK-based readers, greater completions, and greater pageviews than all articles,” writes Cassimally. 

The final phase three is about scaling and distribution. The team aims to onboard more editors and “use the audiences-targeted approach more systematically in product development – as well as finding distribution partners for Quarter Life,” he adds. They also expect to have clarity on how the new approach impacts user monetization. 

Getting more value more regularly brings people closer to the point of monetization, and the data is showing that audiences-informed articles are more valuable to people.

Khalil A. Cassimally, Head of Audience Insights, The Conversation

“Important contributor in building digital subscriptions”

Talking about monetization, the authors note, “local sports desk can be an important contributor in building digital subscriptions.” French daily newspaper, La Voix du Nord has focused on serving amateur football fans through its weekly title La Voix des Sports, to drive conversion and retention. 

The brand attracted only 12% of the fans and followers in the region it serves i.e., Nord-Pas-de-Calais, at the start of its TSE project on amateur football. The content was mostly focused on publishing weekend match summaries every Monday. La Voix des Sports aimed to regain growth in circulation and audience by leveraging digital and capitalizing on its expertise in amateur football. 

A multidisciplinary team was created to take up the challenge. It began by increasing the frequency of publication from weekly to daily on digital. Football fans were encouraged to visit the amateur football section more frequently with two or three new pieces of content published daily in a wider variety of formats (analysis of the goal of the week, highlights, etc.). 

The team increased the volume of content on amateur football on its digital platforms from around 10 articles per week to an average of 50 from January to October 2022. They also launched a weekly newsletter in February 2022 to “structure” this new editorial approach and promote it to football fans.

Published every Thursday, the newsletter highlights best articles and previews the important matches of the coming weekend. The team has developed a dashboard containing KPIs for project management. It provides real-time information on the digital production – audience development, particularly towards paid articles, newsletter subscribers (opening rate, clicks, engagement rate etc.), and the number of digital subscribers converted via amateur football articles. 

42% growth in paying digital subscribers

The team had aimed to gain 500 subscribers through the newsletter – it was approaching 1,200 by the end of the TSE program in October with nearly 75% of its readers being paying subscribers. It has an average open rate of 36% and performs better than most of their other newsletters on other key indicators like clicks and engagement. 

The approach helped La Voix des Sports grow paying digital subscribers by 42%. The sports section’s audience increased by 40% in just under a year. Additionally, they found that visitors were 2x more likely to convert to paying subscribers through articles on amateur football compared to other content on La Voix du Nord’s digital channels.

The team is now looking at utilizing other levers (offers, marketing, social networks) to attract new readers. “From the start, we focused on the expectations/needs of a specific audience and set ourselves precise objectives,” says Jean-François Machut, Project Manager, La Voix du Nord. “We soon realized that we ourselves were capable of launching effective and efficient products quickly.” 

This organization can be transposed to other areas covered by the newsroom. The only condition is that we always start with a good definition of the ‘problem’ and the working hypothesis.

Jean-François Machut, Project Manager, La Voix du Nord

The full report is available here:
Building and engaging specific audiences